Tuesday, 4 October 2011
Prototypical Reasoning about Species and the Species Problem:
Doing without Definition - Species as a Proxy Concept
Yuichi Amitani, CPS Postdoctoral Fellow
University of British Columbia
817R Cathedral of Learning
::: photos and more
Abstract: The species problem is often described as the abundance of conflicting definitions of species, such as the biological species concept
(BSC) and phylogenetic species concepts (PSCs). But biologists understand the notion of species in a non-definitional as well as a definitional way.
This presentation addresses the way in which biologists understand and use species without a definition in their mind, and I will explore the role played by species as what I call a “proxy concept.” The need for a proxy concept arises when there are competing definitions associated with the concept, and no consensus as to which definition is correct. A “proxy concept” stands in for a definition. In the species problem, for instance, faced with the abundance of species definitions, scientists communicate (or presume to communicate) by employing the concept of species as a proxy for a definitional concept (e.g., BSC or PSCs), without committing themselves to a particular solution to the definitional problem. One feature of a proxy concept which makes this possible is that it is a prototype concept. That is, when they understand species without a definition in their mind, their understanding is often mediated by the notion of good species, or prototypical species, as the idea of prototype is explicated in cognitive psychology. This distinction helps us make sense of several puzzling phenomena regarding biologists' dealing with species, such as the fact that in everyday research biologists often behave as if the species problem is solved, while fully aware that it is not.